MAKING THE GRADE: Do we really understand what is involved in educating students?

By Daily News • Last Updated 2:10 pm on Monday, January 27, 2014

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

I believe that one of the challenges facing educators and those supporting the public schools today is that there is really not a lot of understanding about education today. Most of us went to school. For some of us that was a long time ago. Some of us, like me, attended large city or suburban schools. Others may have attended smaller or very small country schools. There are probably a few who recall one room schoolhouses.

Today there are still many different types of public schools. But there are also many changes in not only in the facilities, but in what education looks like compared to even the recent past.

We are all aware of the more obvious changes. Technology has made a huge difference in teaching and learning. Requirements from the state and federal government have created changes. One fact that we too often overlook is how much better we are doing at keeping kids in school and how many more are graduating on time. A study by Dale Whittington of Cleveland State University in 1992 showed that in 1917 about 15 percent of United States students graduated from high school on time. By 1987 that number had climbed to 83 percent.

I point this out to remind us that although most of us attended school and believe we know what school is like, much has changed over the years and school is not what it used to be nor should it be. New problems keep popping up and need to be solved.

At the most recent meeting of the Greenville Board of Education, Diane Brissette, our assistant superintendent, reported on the program to assist students who have limited English proficiency. Most board members were stunned to learn that there are 72 English language learners who attend Greenville schools. They are scattered throughout the district. These students are not all migrant students; over half of them are students who reside in our district. For all of these students there is a need to address the issue of learning English if they are to be successful in their education experience.

Using local, state and federal dollars, Greenville Public Schools supports these students with basic and supplemental services. Student achievement is measured annually and the district is held accountable for meeting their needs. The state has set targets for districts to reach. Called Annual Measureable Achievement Objectives, there are three measures all districts with English language learners need to meet. Last year Greenville met its objectives along with 29 percent of districts in the state. I have no statistics on the number of students with limited English proficiency across the country. However, because of the mobility of our population I would hazard a guess that the number is quite high. And I assume that programs to cope with this issue are relatively new.

Once again I remind readers that I write about issues like this not to complain, but to educate. Public schools and education in general are under attack. We cannot ignore the real issues and concerns that exist. They do have consequences. However, we need to recognize that this is true in the business world as well. In our ever changing world there are always changes to be made and problems to solve. The best organizations find reasons to re-engineer their programs. The point is that we need to be sure we are identifying and tackling the real problems, not just attacking for the sake of criticism.

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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